Lesson 29: The Description of Spiritual Gifts
The story has been told of a family gathering where the younger children were playing with leggo building blocks while other family members were doing the various things that families do while they are all together: adults visiting, teen-agers in the swimming pool, etc. In the midst of all that one of the adults walked through the room where the younger kids were building their lego structures. The adult asked one of the kids what he was building, and he said “Please be quiet, because I’m building a church and lots of people are asleep in there.” While I recognize that is a little far-fetched, unfortunately it does describe some churches. But the church that understands and utilizes the doctrine of spiritual gifts will not be like that.
One of the basic passages about spiritual gifts is in the middle section of Ephesians chapter 4. It will be helpful if we review the outline of chapter 4 once again. In verses 1 through 6 we find Paul’s exhortation to a worthy walk. Then in verses 7 through 16 we have God’s enablement for that worthy walk. And in verses 17 through 32 we see the elements of the worthy walk. In looking at this first section we have seen the definition of spiritual gifts (“a God given ability for service”). Then we talked about the dispensing of Spiritual gifts (sovereignly by Christ Himself.)So now, we will see the description of spiritual gifts in verse 11, and the dimension of spiritual gifts in verses 12-16.
Let’s look first at verse 11 – the description of spiritual gifts.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers.
The first important thing to notice about this verse is the gifts that are being spoken of. As we saw in an earlier lesson, there are other passages that also speak of spiritual gifts – I Peter 4, Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. And we saw in our last study that every believer has one or more of the gifts listed in these passages. So let’s take a few minutes to look at those other passages and the gifts that they mention.
I Peter lists 4:10 to the gift of “speaking” (or “teaching”), ministry, (or “helping”). Then in Romans 12:6-8 we have the gift of prophecy listed again, ministry (or “helping”)again also, teaching, exhortation, giving, (particularly financially),leading, and showing mercy. Then I Corinthians 12:4 through 10 lists wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Each of these deserves a study of its own, but our purpose here is to familiarize you with the various kinds of things that God wants his people to do. Many Bible teachers, including myself, believe that some of these gifts were temporary, based upon the fact that the need for them has almost, if not completely been done away with, but that is a subject for another study.
Now the gifts that are listed in verse 11 are in a little bit of a different category, because this list in verse 11 is talking about God giving these men along with their gifts to the church. One indication of this is the little phrase “to be” before the names of the gifts – these men were given to the church “to be” apostles, prophets, evangelists, and so forth.
But there is something else to notice here, and that is in the little phrase “He Himself” gave . . .” This indicates that the gifts were personally given by Jesus Christ to the church. Not only does God sovereignly gift gifts to every believer, but He also sovereignly gives those gifted individuals to various churches. Now Paul is speaking specifically of the giving of these various leaders to these various churches, but in principle it could also apply to all gifted believers. This might explain how you happened to wind up in whatever city you live in and even why God lead you to the specific church you joined. And it might also explain why he sometimes moves families out of churches that the church leaders may have thought they couldn’t do without. And it is also why you need to think very carefully about where He wants you to go to church when you move to another city – don’t just base it on how nice the nursery is, or how close to your home it is! Take some time to pray about whether or not He may have a place to use your gifts in a specific way there.
There is a third important fact to think about in verse 11, and that is that these gifted men were “Progressively” given to the early church. The order in which these gifts are listed is no accident; it is in historical order (although there is some overlapping.)The first gifted men that God gave to the church were the Apostles. These were 11 of the twelve original disciples, along with the Apostle Paul. (This is stated clearly in Ephesians 2:20.)And although it is beyond the scope of this lesson, they carried with them the authority of Christ Himself. As a sign of their authority they were given the ability to perform miracles in the name of Christ and they could make binding pronouncements, such as Paul’s orders to ex-communicate the notorious sinner in the church in Corinth.
The next group were the “prophets.” There was an overlapping of these two sets of gifted men – in Acts chapter 13 the prophets commissioned Paul (who was an apostle) and Barnabas to their missionary journey. These two groups were not needed after the completion of the New Testament. They took the lead in teaching the believers that all authority now resided in the written Word of God. Important as they were, there is no Biblical evidence that their office continues today. The purpose of their gifts has been made unnecessary by the completion of the Scripture. Aside from a few “splinter groups” who still use the term, there are no Apostles today in the Biblical sense.
There are some Bible Teachers who teach that the gift of Prophet is still being given today. They describe the modern day prophet as one who stands firm for the truth in the way Old Testament prophets did. Obviously there are dynamic pastors and Christian leaders who stand boldly for the truth, and we should be thankful for them. The problem with this teaching, however, is that there is nothing in the scripture that supports their title of prophet. There is no mention of official prophets of the Biblical sort after the end of the first century. Another problem with this teaching is that it can be confusing to new or untaught believers. As I mentioned above, there is simply no need for in this dispensation. In His grace God gave them to the church at the time they were needed. But their purpose has been fulfilled. Although not all of the prophecies in that book have been fulfilled yet, the book of Revelation contains the completed body of New Testament prophecy. In fact, the last four verses of the book of Revelation constitute a solemn warning that nothing is to be added to or subtracted from that book. For all of these reasons I do not believe that there is a gift of “prophets” being given to the church today.
The next group of gifted men given to the churches there were the “evangelists.” These men were prominent in the leadership of the first century church. Apparently they were something more than simply men who had the kind of gift of evangelism that God is still giving believers today. They are spoken of as leaders and decision makers. Although the only one mentioned by name is Philip, in Acts chapter 8, these men played important roles in the development of the church. As the cannon of Scripture was completed these men moved more into prominence as the apostles and prophets phased out.
And then there were the “pastor-teachers.” Again, there was an overlapping with the previous gifts, but the history of the church has come today to the point that the evangelists and the pastor-teachers are the ones still in operation. These two gifts have very different operations, yet they work together for the edification of the church. And don’t get the two confused (as some pastors do.) Because of the context in which they are listed, I believe that possibly it is God’s intention have an “official” evangelist in every local congregation just as there is an “official” pastor-teacher in each one. The evangelist would probably have the responsibility of training church members in personal evangelism, organizing various evangelistic outreaches and overseeing the basic instruction of new believers.
It is important to notice that the gift of pastor-teacher is one gift, not two. There is a gift of teaching, and we will see later in our study that there is a gift of “helps,” or “helping” but this is a combined gift. We know this because of the structure of both the English and the Greek. In English, notice that the word “some” is found before each of the other gifts, but not before the gift of teaching. And in Greek, the conjunction is “de” rather than “kai,” indicating that the two words are to be connected. Someone has pointed out that a man my have the gift of teaching without being a pastor, but he cannot be a pastor without having the accompanying gift of teaching. The two go together.
And there is a very important implication of this fact: the pastor’s job is to teach the Word of God! It is nice if he can socialize and visit, or play on the church softball team, or repair the church’s equipment when it breaks down, or be especially gentle with babies and the elderly. But his responsibility is to teach the word of God.
Many Christians say, “I don’t know what my spiritual gift is, and besides that, I wouldn’t know how to use it if I did know what it was.” But the wonderful thing is that not only did God give you a spiritual gift, but he gave gifted men to teach you how to use it. And that tells you something else about spiritual gifts: understanding them and exercising them is based upon the teaching of the Word of God. So the thing for you to do is to take in as much of the Word of God as you can, then put it into practice in your life. And God will use that process to “build you up” and to “mend” you, to “set you straight” so that you can be equipped for the work of the ministry!
If you honestly don’t know what your spiritual gift is why not begin to try to discover what it is? And you do that in the same way you discovered what your natural human abilities are. How did you do that? You tried them out. If you can play baseball well you first had to try to play. And if you enjoyed it and it made some sense to you, you got some coaching, or worked on it by yourself to the point that you became successful. And the same thing is true of spiritual gifts. You will never know what your gift is until you get busy serving the Lord. The first step in discovering you gift is to volunteer for something. Read the church bulletin, listen to conversation, look around you. Find something that needs to be done and give it a try. It may develop that that is not the thing that is your spiritual gift, but you will never know until you try. And make no mistake about it, God will bless your efforts and direct your steps to find what He has gifted you for. Because ultimately that is all about in the first place – serving and honoring our Lord Jesus Christ.